The next morning the boys were up early. “OK where do we start?” Stephanie thought it might be best if she went first and floated the idea just to see what she thought. Then they could come by later and maybe bring some games or something to play. Some of it would depend on how Emmy was feeling today.
The boys and Brett stayed behind to clear out the office and turn it into a bedroom for Emmy. They had lots of old furniture in the basement so all they would need was a new mattress. They had looked at the one down there and there were pee stains from when Jake had been a bed wetter as a toddler. Tyler had laughed and of course a chase and a good-natured tussle had ensued. Thankfully, Brett was still stronger than both of them and quickly got them back on task.
At the hospital, Stephanie was nervous again as she knocked on the door and opened it slowly. “Coach, what are you doing here again?” Emmy was sitting on the bed looking at a book. She looked a 1000 times better than yesterday. Gone was the gown. She was wearing a Bruins team t-shirt and some warm-up pants but no socks. Coach grabbed her toes, “you better get some socks on, before you catch a cold.”
Emmy smiled “a cold is the least of my worries” she joked then covering her feet with the blanket added. “I forgot to bring any.” When she had a chance she would text Brett to bring her some.
“You really didn’t need to come all the way back down here.”
“I know I didn’t need to but I wanted to.” She pulled up the chair she’d sat in yesterday and took a seat. “You look great today by the way.”
“Dr. Hatcher said all the counts were way up this morning. I’ve already had the last dose, and I’m officially through another round and halfway done. If everything stays good today I can probably go back to St. Thomas tomorrow.” Dr. Hatcher had dosed her with a different nausea medication this morning hoping to give her some relief. That with the infusions and he hoped that she’d have a quicker recovery time this round. He had a feeling that she’d tried to tough it out too long and it had wiped her body out. Most kids end up here long before the third round. But most get transfusions and are out of here. Emmy pushed too long and ended up crashing. With parents around they would have noticed and gotten her in here before it go tot this. Dr. Hatcher knew that she’d gotten really good at hiding the pain.
“That’s good news.” Emmy nodded. “Listen that’s something I wanted to talk to you about.” Stephanie turned the chair so she was facing the bed. “How is it there?”
“Its OK?” Emmy found that thread from yesterday and began picking at it again.
“Well I was actually thinking that I might have a better idea. Brett and I were talking and wondered if maybe you’d come live with us.” Emmy immediately looked up and directly at Stephanie.
Emmy looked down, her logical brain overtaking her heart. “Coach that would be too much trouble.”
“No trouble for us. We’ve got an extra room, I teach at school and spend most of the evening with you at practice anyway.”
“But coach I’ve got to come down here all the time for chemo and blood work and if something like this happens again. No, I’ll just stay at St. Thomas. It really isn’t bad there.”
“But it isn’t good either. Emmy you deserve more than they can give you there. You probably deserve more than we can give you to but I promise we will try to make up for everything you’ve been through.”
“Coach you don’t have to…” Coach cut her off. This wasn’t working so she was going to try another tactic.
“Listen Emmy this is really selfish of me but look, I need my best player healthy. I understand that this might sound horrible but I think if you come live with us you’ll be able to focus more on basketball.” It sounded so bad but Stephanie watched the wheels turning in Emmy’s mind. Suddenly this wasn’t about them doing something for her but them both doing something for the team. “Without you healthy our team doesn’t stand a chance against Harrisburg.”
Emmy sighed “For the team?” Stephanie nodded, “OK.” Coach smiled the biggest smile. Then before Emmy could change her mind she pulled out her phone and immediately called Mr. Case. Emmy listened to the conversation.
“He was certainly happy about your decision. He’s already got the forms filled out and ready to fax to the judge who he already talked to and who already said yes to us being your foster parents.”
“Coach you’re sure this isn’t too much?”
“Since you’ve already said yes I can tell you the whole story. This wasn’t just my idea. Last night when I came home Brett mentioned it before I had a chance to even bring it up. Then the boys caught Brett and I sitting on the floor crying last night.” Emmy’s eyes shot up. “Yes we may have been a little upset about you and…just everything.”
“You were crying?”
“Hey, I have a heart too. I just can’t show it at practice or you girls will rip it out and stomp all over it.” She looked up at Emmy who was shaking her head. “Now just don’t tell anyone about the crying, OK? I have a reputation to uphold.” Emmy pretended to zip her lips. Stephanie got a glimpse of her personality.
Coach continued. “The boys kind of freaked out and thought something had happened so we had to tell them. Tyler actually yelled at me for leaving you here alone last night. He said he’d have been terrified to be here all alone. That’s when they actually came up with the idea of us adopting you. So this is a family decision.”
“Wait you said just being my foster parents. Coach I’m not sure…” She stopped unsure of exactly what she was unsure about.
Stephanie took Emmy’s hand in her own, “Good because I’m not sure either. Mr. Case said we had to start with fostering then we would talk about adoption.”
A knock at the door made them both jump. It was Holly and her iPad. “Another visitor! You’re going to get spoiled.” She began working. “Dr. Hatcher talked to Mr. Case this morning and if your blood count stays up this afternoon, even while the chemo works its magic, they can come get you tomorrow morning.” Emmy looked over to Stephanie who nodded.
“Actually, I’m not going back to St. Thomas.” Holly almost dropped the iPad and looked at Emmy who was smiling. “I’m going to live with Coach Miles and her husband.” Holly almost knocked Stephanie’s chair backwards as she grabbed her to give her a hug.
“Oh my gosh! That is the greatest news I’ve heard in forever.” She was absolutely smiling from ear to ear. “OK then we’ve got to make sure you’re ready to go tomorrow.” She was speaking a mile a minute. “How about breakfast? Did you eat?” She lifted the cover on the tray to reveal a partially eaten biscuit, some messed over eggs and sausage and an empty little bowl.” Holly gave her an evil look.
“I ate the fruit!” Emmy was quick point out.
“Sweetie you’ve got to eat more than that.”
“It wasn’t very good.” Holly shook her head.
Stephanie leaned up toward the bed. “Is there anything that sounds good?” Emmy didn’t really know what to say no one had asked that in so long.
She always just ate what they served at the home, school or here at the hospital. She really didn’t even know what she could eat. Her nausea was gone for now but she wasn’t really sure she wanted to test it. “I know what about a milkshake? My boys always like those after they’ve been sick. Brett can grab you one.” Emmy didn’t immediately say no so Stephanie texted Brett about the shake. But then looked up at Holly “She can have a shake right?”
“Absolutely. I’d say four or five wouldn’t hurt. Maybe put some meat back on those bones.” She squeezed Emmy’s bicep.
“Coach, you don’t have to do that. I’ll just try to eat more of the lunch when they bring it.”
“No offense Holly. But it might not be any better.”
“None taken. Emmy, I don’t care what you eat I just need you to eat something so we can see if you can keep it down.” Emmy nodded. Holly had been bad enough before but now with Coach there were two of them here trying to take care of everything.
“Got it.” Emmy agreed to try to eat today.
About an hour later Brett, Jake and Tyler arrived. They knocked and Stephanie opened the door for them. Thankfully they didn’t have flowers or balloons. Being around Emmy they knew that she wouldn’t have liked them. Brett did have a little stuffed bear that he handed to her as he wrapped her into a hug that lasted forever. “You can’t scare us like that OK? Honesty and full disclosure from now on. Got it?”
“Yes Sir.” Emmy realized after she’d said it that she had just agreed to be honest with them. Something that she couldn’t even do last night. Now they were taking her in and deserved for her to be honest. She resolved herself to at least try.
Jake handed her the shake. “We got you the biggest one they had. We’ve got to beef you up before State or those Titans will just toss you around.”
“Only if they can catch me.” Emmy responded, another little glimpse of personality, and Jake gave her a fist to bump. “Still got the fire.” Stephanie and Brett moved around the bed and took a seat on the couch by the windows and the boys took the chairs. “So you look great.” Brett was afraid that she was going to look bad or have tubes and machines.
Emmy just nodded so Stephanie stepped in “the Doctor said all her numbers were up today so the infusions and IVs they gave her yesterday seem to have worked.” Emmy lifted her hand showing off the tubing protruding from her hand.
“I didn’t think to ask do you have a central line?” Brett was suddenly worried that she had been playing with one.
“No they said I couldn’t play with it so I made them just do the IV each time I come.” Brett nodded.
Tyler finally spoke “So how much more chemo do you have?”
“Three more rounds. They gave me the last dose of this round this morning.”
Tyler looked at his Mom “So when do we get to bust her out of here?”
“Holly was in here earlier and said if everything in the blood work held today, with the added chemo, then she could be released tomorrow. But she really has to eat today.”
“Then drink up girl we’re getting you out of here.” Tyler smiled. He had always liked Emmy and taken her under his wing whenever he’d gone to their open gyms or practices. Now she was going to be his little sister.
The conversation lulled and Brett reached in his pocket. Stephanie covered her eyes when she saw what he pulled out. “No, you didn’t.” Emmy was watching them confused. “Oh, Emmy I am so sorry.”
“Sorry, what do you mean sorry. Now that she’s part of our family she will have to learn the official Miles family game.”
“Emmy don’t let him fool you, he only likes it because he never loses.” Jake really liked playing the card game but Brett did win all the time and it drove the competitive boys crazy. Stephanie won occasionally but she usually had to resort to distraction. Lately she’d found that rubbing his leg under the table threw him off.
“Have you ever played Speed?” Emmy shook her head and Brett pulled the little rolling tray over to the bed. “Ok I’ll play Stephanie first so you can kind of see how it goes. Now Mrs. Miles please refrain from your usual trickery since we are in public.” Tyler explained to Emmy about his Mom’s flirting as a distraction. Emmy smiled and watched them interact. She had never seen this side of her coaches before. They were so stern at practice; it was nice to see them like this.
They played the first game slowly so Emmy could watch. Then Brett dealt the cards again and beat Stephanie at full speed. “What do you think?”
“Let me watch a couple more.”
“Ok then I need a next victim.” Jake took his mom’s seat and Stephanie sat on the bed beside Emmy. Jake came close, he only had three cards left when Brett played his last one. Tyler played next but wasn’t as lucky, he had a huge pile and Brett was already finished.
“Sure.” She sat cross-legged on the bed holding the little bear in her lap as Brett moved the tray and his chair to face her. He dealt the cards and she picked up her first five. Leaning forward she waited for Jake to say go. They explained earlier that someone that wasn’t playing always had to say go to make it totally fair. They said Brett cheated if he said go.
Emmy played her cards quickly and found that they were both down to one card and neither played so they both reached over to flip one of the extra cards over. As they did the door opened behind them and Holly stepped into the room. Flipping the cards Emmy saw hers and caught a glimpse of the one Brett had flipped. Her card played on his and as soon as it was down she placed her last card over it. She had won. The boys both gave each other high fives and Stephanie leaned over and gave Emmy one. Emmy laughed.
Holly who was standing behind them had tears in her eyes. Brett saw her and quickly tried to explain “Sorry, so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry at all. If you can make this child laugh you can be as loud and crazy as you want.” They grabbed the cards and everyone sat back in their seats as Holly checked all the information on Emmy’s chart. “So what were you playing?”
“A game called speed.” Emmy answered as she placed the blood pressure cuff around her arm.
“It was. I won.” And Emmy smiled again looking at Brett who pretended to be sad.
“So is this the whole family.” Holly looked at Stephanie.
“It is now.” She reached over and took Emmy’s hand.
“Emmy I have a feeling you’re going to be just fine.”
“I think so too.” Emmy looked around the room unable to believe how her life had changed in the last couple of hours.
Holly picked up the shake cup and shook it. “Did you drink this?” Emmy nodded. “Hallelujah.” She typed it into the chart. “So far so good?” Again Emmy nodded. “Well things are looking up. That was the last thing of fluids. Would you like to get rid of the IV?”
She reached into a drawer under the computer and pulled out some gloves and gauze and tape. She went about her work and the rest of them watched. She pulled and pulled until she removed all the tape from Emmy’s hand. “Ready.” Emmy nodded. Holly expertly pulled the IV from her little hand and then quickly covered it with gauze. Emmy had done this many times before and she slid her hand over top and pressed the gauze firmly over the place where the IV had been.
Since the chemo had started Emmy noticed that she bleed easier than she ever had before. Last month, after the third day of chemo she’d been about to leave when the nurse noticed blood running down her arm. She had to sit back down and bend her elbow to hold a cotton ball there until they were satisfied that the tiny hole had clotted. That had been what made her late to practice the first time.
This time Holly was taking her time. After she disposed of the IV and all the tape she took the job of holding the gauze back from Emmy. She pressed firmly for a minute and then lifted it up to watch for any blood. Satisfied she placed a tiny piece of gauze over the wound and taped it down.
After gathering up all the blood samples she took through the IV before she removed it she said, “I’m going to take all this to the lab. You all may resume your game. But when her dinner arrives I expect it eaten.” She tried to put on her mean nurse face.
“Yes Ma’am.” Emmy saluted and Holly couldn’t hold the face.
“Night and day difference. Night and day.” She left the room.
Brett looked at Stephanie and raised an eyebrow as if asking what she meant. Stephanie didn’t really know so she excused herself to look for a coke machine.
Outside in the hall she caught up with Holly. “Holly!” The nurse stopped. “What did you mean by night and day?”
“Walk with me, I ’ve got to get these down before Suzie leaves. She’s the only one I trust to push this through.” Once Stephanie caught up she started. “When I walked into that room and heard her laugh it was easily one of the best moments I’ve had in my 10 years of nursing. We had her in here for a week after her surgery. They made her stay longer than usual since there was no one to keep a close eye on her. She had a little trouble with infection and spent another two weeks. Then each of the chemo rounds and this weekend and I’ve rarely seen her smile and never laugh. Until you all showed up.”
“Well we are a little nutty.”
“Maybe but its more than that. You’re someone she respects greatly and you’ve taken an interest in her. Something no one has done for a long time.”
“She’s a really special kid who deserves a lot more than the hand she’s been dealt.”
“I’m really glad that you all are taking her to live with you. It lessens the burden I’ve been feeling. If I didn’t have three little ones already I’d have taken her out of that place long ago.”
“We didn’t even know until two weeks ago that she was living there.”
“She’s not the most talkative.”
“Especially not about herself.”
They got to the lab and Holly gave the samples to Suzie personally. “With so many patients stuff gets behind. I want to make sure that the results are there when Dr. Hatcher does rounds in the morning so she can get out of here.” Holly stopped and pushed the button on the elevator. “Dr. Hatcher does his rounds at about 9:00 on Sunday. So I’d say be back around then.”
“Oh I’m not leaving…if that’s OK? Mr. Case already got us emergency custody and he’s working on the long term foster approval and then the adoption.”
Holly smiled, “its more than OK.”
“Do you think Emmy will be OK with this? She’s been fending for herself for so long.”
“Give her space. Just show her love and she’ll come around.”
“Thank you so much for everything you’ve done here for here.”
Stephanie snuck back into the room and Jake and Emmy were in a heated duel. Cards were flying and Emmy was smiling. Brett winked as Stephanie stopped and leaned against the wall smiling at her family. “Dang it.” Jake pushed his chair back and stood. “She’s just another Dad. Beats me every time.” Tyler gave Emmy high five as everyone laughed at Jake. He had always been a sore loser, but today was doing it up for Emmy’s benefit.
Brett stood and stretched looking at his watch it was after 5 and they still had a few things left to do to get her room ready. “Well I guess we’ll get out of here. These two still need to get the grass mowed before it gets dark.”
“AWW.” The boys whined in unison.
Brett leaned down and gave her a hug. “We’ll see you tomorrow.”
Both of the boys hugged her too. Brett kissed Stephanie “Take care of her.”
They left and Stephanie sat back down on the couch. “So is it OK if I stay with you tonight? Tyler said I couldn’t leave you alone again.”
“You don’t really have to. I’ve been doing this for a while.”
“I know, but if I come home now Tyler will let me have it. And I thought maybe you’d watch the video from the Harrisburg game with me.’ Emmy’s eyes lit up.
Coach found the bag that Brett had brought and found her iPad. The food service lady brought Emmy’s dinner and they spent the next two hours watching and re-watching both games and looking for changes they could make.
In the end, Emmy enjoyed seeing how Coach studied the game and Coach enjoyed some of Emmy’s suggestions. One of which was to just give up the tip and try for a steal. There was no way that they were going to out jump them so Emmy’s idea was to just set the defense up and trap whoever gets the ball. If they stole it then they’d have the ball and the possession arrow. Coach loved the idea and made notes.
While watching the 7th h grade game a second time Stephanie felt Emmy’s head lean on her shoulder. She looked down and her eyes were closed. Emmy had scooted over in the bed and Stephanie was sitting beside her and the iPad was sitting up on the tray. Stephanie turned the iPad off and pulled the thin sheet up over Emmy. She kissed her on the head before sliding out of the bed.
Stephanie would have loved to just lay there and hold her, but she worried about pushing her too far too fast. She’d been on her own for a long time and it was going to take some time to feel part of a family again. That was ok they’d be there when she was ready.